Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 restarts in Cape Town tomorrow, 10th December with the In-Port Race followed by the start of leg two to Abu Dhabi on 11th December. The crew of Groupama 4 is ready for action in these two supposedly windy events. After a short break of four days, Franck Cammas and his men got back into training at the start of the week.
It was a busy day this Friday with the 'Pro-Am' race, designed to carry guests aboard the VO-70s, as well as make the switch back into race mode; the six crews chomping at the bit after the action-packed scenario of the first leg. It proved to be a boisterous introduction as the southerly wind blowing around the South African port at over twenty knots was gusting considerably as it flicked off Table Mountain... And though this confrontation has no impact on the ranking for the Volvo Ocean Race, it is still a good test for the six competitors, three of which (Abu Dhabi, Puma and Sanya) had to work flat out to effect repairs and either restep their masts or sort out a delaminated hull.
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For Groupama 4, even though the stopover in Cape Town proved to be somewhat shorter than planned, the situation is favourable as the boat made it into port in perfect condition after over 7,000 miles. The shore crew has had sufficient time to get down to the minor details and has even managed to optimise some of the elements which relate to comfort and ergonomics, as well as refining the cut of the sails for this second leg. After a lively introduction, conditions are likely to be coloured by a light to medium breeze. The true match racing is scheduled for 1500 hours local time with the `In-Port' race, which should show-off the calibre of the manoeuvring performed by the different crews. The very specific format of this race, in relation to the long offshore legs, calls for an element of prudence in terms of the result. Indeed it's essentially the start phase which dictates the hierarchy, as well as the choice of course and whether it favours beats into the wind or downwind points of sail. The first event in Alicante didn't yield many lessons as regards how the boats handle and the racing capabilities of each of them, as the wind totally died away a few minutes after the starting gun fired.
However, things are likely to pan out rather differently this Saturday as the breeze will be very much in evidence, dishing out twenty knots and more of southerly, with rough seas. A low is forming to the South of the Agulhas Cape and it's over 35 knots of established wind which will be blowing offshore of the extreme tip of Africa! As such it's going to be sporty in Cape Town this weekend and the reliability of the gear will once again be put to the test... Of note is the fact that Jean-Luc Nélias is leaving his post of navigator for the `In-Port' race in Cape Town to Charles Caudrelier, while Laurent Pagès will be stepping aboard as tactician for this event.
During the skippers' briefing, the Race Director Jack Lloyd and CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race, Knut Frostad, unveiled the programme for the second leg between Cape Town and Abu Dhabi. Due to the presence of Somali pirates to the North-West of the Indian Ocean, the organisers have opted to split this leg in two: the initial 5,430 miles will be reduced as the first phase will set off from South Africa to round the Cape of Good Hope then that of Agulhas, 120 miles to the South-East, before climbing around the tip of South Africa leaving Madagascar to port, and onto a secret point which will host the finish of this first section. The six boats will then be loaded onto a ship in a secret port. This first half of the race will represent 80% of the points awarded for this second leg.
Once onboard, the six VO-70s will be transported to the Arabian peninsula under escort whilst the crews travel there by plane. Unloaded in a port to the North of the Emirates, race management will define the site for the second start and a sprint to Abu Dhabi: this second section represents 20% of the points awarded. The Emirate will then play host to the Volvo Ocean Race from 31st December to 14th January, at the end of which the six yachts will perform the same manoeuvre for the third leg; being loaded onto a cargo ship bound for a secret port, and a second offshore section setting sail for the Chinese city of Sanya. Groupama Sailing Team website